Thesp Vincent Vieluf’s writing-directing debut “Order of Chaos” is a slick but strained mix of character study and psychological thriller about a lawyer unraveling under ambiguously real or imagined pressure. At once predictable, unconvincing and over-flashy, the pic reps a fairly ambitious first shot that falls short, but shouldn’t deter Vieluf from honing his behind-camera skills further. Pic opened Feb. 12 on a single L.A. screen; further theatrical prospects are slim, though tube-familiar leads should help secure decent DVD and cable exposure.

Verified workaholic John (Rhys Coiro of “24 and Entourage”) is right-hand man — aka “lapdog” — to hard-driving Miss Craig (Mimi Rogers) at her high-end tax law firm, enduring brusque criticisms and demands without even private complaint. At home, he also seems rather dominated by fiancee Jennifer (Samantha Mathis, not given much to work with).

But things change with the arrival of new hire Rick (Milo Ventimiglia, “Heroes”). He’s a brashly confident alpha dog and party monster who throws endless verbal punches, then covers each jab with a questionably sincere, “Just kidding.”

Rick encourages John to stop letting “anyone push you around,” with unfortunate consequences. Is this just Rick’s underhanded way of usurping his rival’s position? As written and played, Rick is so nakedly devious, there’s little question of the answer. Meanwhile, Coiro makes John so soft, spacy and easily snowed from the start that it’s hard to believe he’d climb a steep corporate ladder in the first place. Nor is mentioning that he takes meds for “hyper-anxiety” enough to convince us he’s unstable or has enough repressed rage to melt down as he does, abruptly turning paranoid, violent and delusional. Pic conveys this disintegration via jarring bursts of image and audio that soon seem more irksome than evocative.

Vieluf is presumably responsible in part for this strategy, since “Groovy” is the name of both the credited co-editor and his offscreen cat. He also wrote the numerous tortured synth tracks played by (one-man?) band Which, adding more aesthetic hammering to a film that instead needed more subtlety and depth — particularly to render its cryptic ending provocative rather than just unsatisfying. Nor does the story work as a metaphor for America’s recent ails, despite heavy-handed cutaways to TV headlines.

Yet even if “Order” never quite works in narrative or psychological terms, Vieluf displays enough assurance with cast, pacing and tech/design aspects to make this a competently pro debut.

Order of Chaos

  • Production: A Cinema Epoch release of a Ten/Four Pictures presentation. Produced by Gil Cates Jr. and Caitlin Murney. Executive producers, Rod Grant Kagan, Richard Rotzang, Amir R. Kashani. Directed, written by Vincent Vieluf.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Thomas M. Harting; editors, Groovy, Jennifer Mayer; music, Which; music supervisor, Mason Cooper; production designer, Kirsten Oglesby; art director, Heather Ogelsby; costume designer, Amanda Riley; sound (Dolby Digital), Hilary Stewart, Jeremy Fraye; supervising sound editor/designer, Sean Gray; assistant director, Zack Keyworth; casting, Riley. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Feb. 9, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 88 MIN.
  • With: With: Rhys Coiro, Milo Ventimiglia, Samantha Mathis, Susan Ward, Maggie Kiley, Chip Jolsen, Anna Campbell, Mimi Rogers.